A Lady and A Crown

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Sometimes it’s the small things that hold the most meaning in our lives. They show up as everyday actions, expressed through the simplest gestures and the gentlest of comments. Yet make no mistake, this is what love looks like.

This Mother’s Day my mother wants only an ice cream cone. She says, “that will be enough.”

Mom opens the passenger door and slides onto the empty seat. She smiles from under her new straw hat. “Do you like it?” Her words sound timid.

My fingers reach to adjust the brim of woven straw. “It’s jaunty, Mom. Wear it lower on the forehead.” She pulls back. In that moment I catch my tone.

A memory returns. It is of a different mother.

This mother waited in the car or stood on the street. This mother adjusted and rolled the brims of her sweet babies’ hats, made certain they were safe.

This mother’s children scampered down the steps from school or daycare, their small heads bobbing, their hats askew. Her fingers reached forth to roll and adjust. She was the mother who smoothed the cloth, caressed a cheek.

Voices warbled as chubby little hands rifled through backpacks to produce a rumpled painting or a sample of schoolwork. “Do you like it, Mom?”

I always did.

There is something achingly similar in the whispered words of young and elderly. The shy questioning notes that search for reassurance and approval. The eyes wide, searching.

My mother’s voice calls me back to the present.

“Do you like it?”

I nod. “It has flare, Mom.” I smile and tug it closer to her ears.

A truth snags hold. Some days, I am mothering her.

While I steer, Mom shares a happy story. She speaks of a friend. “I was just about to sit down to eat when the phone rang. It was Francie.” Breathless words continue, “ She tells me there’s a new park bench across the street and insists we go and sit on it. Christen it.”

At first she resisted this adventure. There were excuses. The dinner, the six o’clock news- Francie persisted.

My mother sighs. “I told her, dinner could wait.”

I nod. “Good choice, Mom. Sometimes we need to lose the plan.”

My mother’s world is small. She plans each day around breakfast, lunch and dinner. She eagerly awaits the Friday paper, the daily news and me.

She explains how they ambled to the nearby park and sat on the wooden bench. “Two old girls,” she laughs. “Francie told me I needed a straw hat. When I told her I didn’t own one, she pulled a floral pop up umbrella from her bag.”

Mom acted the part, raised her hand above her head, lifted her hat and shook loose her fine grey hair. In that moment she was twenty-five. I glimpsed the shimmer in her eyes and felt the swish of hair.

She is beautiful.

My hands flutter and smooth the top of her head. She eases the hat into place. “Francie held the umbrella over my head,” she says. “I felt like royalty.” She pauses and raises one hand. Fingers lower the car’s visor.

“I’m looking for a mirror.”

I lift the cover to reveal one.

She gazes at her reflection. “Do you like it?”

“You look pretty, Mom.”

Sunlight streams through glass. She looks in the distance. Swiftly her fingers reach. She shuts the cover over the mirror and lifts the visor.

“We’ll do something for Mother’s Day,” I say.

“Nothing fancy, just take me for ice cream. That’s enough.”

Silence fills every bit of space. A silence so vast it reminds us of all we never said. A veil of crepe settled over memories, the years spent tip- toeing around the shards that filled up spaces. Somehow we managed to hold to one another. I told her, “You are worth so much more.” I vowed that she would never break again.

The car pulls to the curb and I watch as she walks the short path to the front door, see her turn the key in the lock and notice that she looks back to wave good- bye. This is her signature.

It is the hug I will not receive, the kiss on the cheek that is missing and the spoken words I will never hear.

I imagine my mother walking through the lobby and checking her mailbox. She stops at the elevator and pushes the button. As the door opens, she smiles.

Her finger touches the second floor light. She stands and absorbs the familiar creaks and groans of the pulleys that lift her higher.

At the second floor the elevator stops and the door clunks open. My mother exits and begins the short climb up the three stairs to her suite. Her veined hand grips the rail as she slowly places one foot ahead of the other. She hears the familiar sound of voices chattering down the hall. Laughter rings, a television booms. She inhales the spiciness of turmeric and smoke that seeps from beneath a door. On her head is perched the new straw hat. She smiles.

 

If I wait long enough my mother will appear in the apartment’s window and look down upon the street.

Our eyes meet and I see her, a beautiful woman wearing a straw crown.

Midnight

You were born beneath an ireful star, launched into a destiny predetermined by a past. So, it is fitting that I wait for your arrival at the darkest hour of night.

In dreams, I am certain you return.

It is winter’s cusp, a time of confusion and crossover. Hail mixes with sunshine. Green shoots wither with frost. A time of sorrows passing and joy’s celebratory re-birth.

I wait on a barren beach, protected by crisscrossed driftwood, tucked in and sheltered from raging winds. Even the gulls have left.

In the distance, the thundering rollers call. Waves tumble and break to slip upon the shore. A heavenly mess, the water’s advance and retreat orchestrated with military precision.

From a safe vantage point, I see only unending swaths of gloom. The sky beyond is thickly brushed with inky, blue-black strokes. My eyes glance up toward the heavens. There waits the moon, full and ripe as a melon. Flickers of starlight sparkle through darkness.

A grey drop cloth of cloud obscures the distance. A split begins to form. Winds rip asunder the gauzy veil. A moon beam illuminates the watery path ahead. In the distance a red rowboat approaches. A man holds an oar.

Slowly, the shroud rises, carried off, held by the beaks of forty-eight diamond doves. Their wings rustle and heave as the curtain rises. You return in peace.

Lost at sea, a drift with one oar, the tides have brought you home. I leave my wind worn shelter and stand at the water’s edge.

Sailing closer to land, you fix your gaze upon mine. The ocean’s song rocks the rowboat with a final push to settle upon sand. My hand reaches out to steady you. Once on solid ground you straighten and pause. Reaching into your pocket, you pull out a stone. “This is for you.” You look away and lower your head.

“Thank you,” I reply.

Cool to first touch, the stone becomes warmer; a talisman nestled in my palm. I turn it and note the imperfections, see the flaws beneath a smooth surface. The passage of time has softened its form. The stone is actually glass. Once fragile and abandoned, its story has shaped over time. It ends in the form of a heart.

“Don’t cast it,” you say.

My fingers reach for a stick that rests upon the sand. Words whisper through wind, “This is for you.”

I press letters at the ocean’s edge.

D-I-G-N-I-T-Y

That is all I seek. It is the gift you gave back to me.

 

 

 

 

 

The Circle

The circle opened to let me in. A hand reached for mine. Warmth from a touch pulsed through starved veins; a fingertip graced my forearm. A heartbeat slowed.

We stood tall together. Ancestors, cousins, sisters, mothers and aunts all stepped forth, heads held high. You turned and faced us.

Strong women. We’ve known struggle. The brave ones; we’ve faced fear, cut it down with our light. Words tossed like stones only bruised our surface. We’ve known betrayals and chose to rise above the duplicity. Compassionate, we conquer hate with tolerance and love. Joyous we drink from celebration’s cup.

Honourable women. We’ve known loss, felt its icy fingers spear our hearts. Tears slipped like silk to cleanse sorrow’s stain. Babies born and buried, husbands lost, doors shut. Voiceless we screamed to a seemingly absent god, “ Have mercy.”

We’ve stumbled; momentarily lost our footing through the darkened forest. Our advice to you is simple.

Take shelter under the limbs of the finest tree. Pause within the stillness. Perhaps the only audible is the wind as it lifts the leaves to dance. Punched by noise leaves you fit to embrace silence. Can you hear the rustling?

Realize a presence, something more. It is their legion. They come to circle and say, “Your story, your voice, your being, matters.” Something enchanted, other worldly happens. Whispered voices murmur, “We are here. You are not alone.”

The circle opens to let you in. A hand reaches forth. Its touch pulses through hungry veins and warms you. A fingertip graces your forearm. You feel your heartbeat slow.

We stand tall together. Your ancestors, sisters, cousins, mothers and aunts. Strong women.

 

 

 

 

A Gentleman

“Grandfather, Great Spirit,

Once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice.”

~Black Elk

It wasn’t a fancy car but it was reliable. My Grandfather drove an aging Valiant Wayfarer utility wagon. This was in keeping with his humble style. A simple man, my grandfather had his own brand of street style. An aura of authenticity hovered over him. I imagine that it pleased him to note that the Valiant was manufactured in Australia.

A plaid wool blanket was folded across the Valiant’s back seat. This gentle touch offered soft comfort for a snuffling Boxer named Mitzi. In the winter months it provided warmth from the chill. Along the road of life, Mitzi and Grandfather traveled as true companions.

I recall Grandfather tidy in a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled to the forearm. Look again and you’d glimpse a tattoo; the lower half of a mermaid’s fin. Overtop of his shirt, he wore leather- tabbed suspenders. They attached to buttons hidden under the waistband of his pressed woolen pants. His low boots appeared oiled. The leather had the sheen of rubbed chestnuts. A copper bracelet encircled his right wrist. He believed that the power of this element bewitched and tamed the demon called arthritis.

Understand, my grandfather needed the full use of his hands. They were his tools. An oiler by trade, he knew the most intimate parts of a boiler’s engine. His intuition understood every hiss, puff, and pause of machinery. His strong hands worked the land. Muscled arms heaved soil, necessary to build shelter for family. Born on the land, he was a descendent of carters and farmers.

My grandfather was a gentleman in more ways than one. A trademark felt fedora graced his head. This was the only fashionable touch of formal style he held to. It recalled a time of common etiquette and classy formality. He practiced simple courtesies such as opening doors for women. When a lady entered the room, he stood and removed his hat.

When I learned to drive a car, we would meet in the country. Grandfather had a precious sister that he visited each week. It was their ritual yet they made room for me.

Together we’d cruise in the Valiant. His favourite spot was a nearby provincial park. Gravel crunched under tires as the car wound along the rough roads. Finally, Grandfather would park the Valiant in a clearing. “Time for some fresh air,” he’d say. As we walked into the forest, my grandfather would pause to point out the trees.

“That’s a cypress. Notice the small, woody cones,” or whisper, “Look up. Find the tallest tree. Over there.” He’d stand stone still while my eyes followed skyward from the point of his finger. “There’s an eagle’s nest in that fir tree.”

When our time together ended, grandfather walked to my parent’s car and opened the driver’s door. He waited as I settled behind the wheel.

“Drive carefully,” he’d caution. “I’ll go on ahead. Follow me along the highway. I’ll lead you back to the turn off and then be on my way home.”

The dark two- lane highway was dangerous to drive. Evergreens rustled and swayed. Sometimes, I’d lag behind in speed and when that happened, he’d pull over to the shoulder of the road and wait for my car to catch up.

Up ahead, I’d see my grandfather’s car stopped and waiting. The car’s lights shone upon the Valiant. A man wearing a fedora stood tall. As I passed by, my grandfather doffed his fedora. It was our signal. We could both carry on into the night and find our way home.

A staunch fighter for worker’s rights and health care for all, he believed in bettering community. As a younger man, he rode the train from Alberta to the West Coast. At the city’s terminal station, he stood strong with the other unemployed and desperate men. Beat up and ordered to leave town, the men stood stronger together. Those were the meanest years of the Great Depression. He took whatever work he could find.

A loyalty to Queen and a new country shaped his nationalist spirit. One World War had been enough for his scarred body and gentle mind. In search of family and the opportunity to own land, he emigrated from England to Canada. The familiar grassy hillsides and vast farmlands would become a memory. His tender heart coveted memories of childhood and family left.

It was the tilt of his head that I recall. The way in which it tipped ever so slightly left. It was as if he had purposely paused a beat in time or stalled the moment. I sensed he felt the need to fully appreciate whatever was before him. Perhaps he knew too well how quickly moments vanish. A shy smile and twinkling eyes lent him humble, boyish charm.

This unassuming man possessed a gentle spirit and a watchful eye. At certain times in our life, he suddenly appeared. I believe he sensed the need to connect and guide. In those moments we exchanged few words. It wasn’t necessary. He was loyal and protective.

To me, he was known as grandfather. In his presence I felt the buzz from the purest magic, sent forth by an unseen hand. The magic came from a place beyond reason and beyond us. It felt real and true. In youth, I did not appreciate the gifts he gave me. They weren’t material in form, yet they were significant. These invisible gifts shaped me into the woman I have become. When I forget who I am, I close my eyes and remember.

Occasionally I drive along the stretch of highway that we used to travel. Whenever I do, I think of him. The winding road is now straight. Two lanes of highway became four. The ancient trees that rustled in the darkness are gone, long ago clear-cut. Behold an expansive housing development that continues for miles. Now, endless light shines from a stretch of apartment windows, illuminates the darkness.

Up ahead I see him. He is patiently waiting. Passing by, he tips his hat.

We wonder if the smallest actions matter. They do.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cradle

Annie Sloan~ Pure White Chalk Paint
Annie Sloan~ Pure White Chalk Paint
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Cece Caldwell~ Santa Fe Turquoise Chalk paint
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Grandpa’s Barn Red paint peeks through the sanded edges of the cradle.
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A coat of Annie Sloan Soft Wax slips over the paint.

Grandpa fashioned the wooden cradle by hand and painted it Barn Red. I remember that afternoon; his hands set the cradle onto the linoleum floor. My small hands reached forth, rocked the cradle. His gentle eyes looked into mine,
“For your doll, rock her to sleep,” he said. He turned to my mother, “I found the pattern in the newspaper.”

I recall the cradle was the colour of a shiny fire truck. Grandpa used any old paint, whatever was on hand. Barn Red sat on top of the work-bench, so Barn Red it was. It wasn’t about beauty or matching decor; it was about finishing up a project. It was about frugality. It was about the hand-made gift, lovingly bestowed on a young child.

Over the years, the doll’s cradle was set aside. My sister and I grew older, chose other forms of play. Somehow the cradle survived several moves, furniture purges, life changes, re dos and pure neglect. Yet, I always knew where to find it.

A few days ago, I thought about the man who fashioned the wood into a doll’s cradle. An urge to sit awhile in his space, hold to a memory over took me.

It was clear how to find him. I searched the cobwebbed crawl space until its rocker came to view,hidden behind the box of Christmas decorations. Slowly, I lifted the cradle. The heaviness of the plywood, the slivered edges, and the pea green paint, pricked for attention. I craved evidence from a moment.

Confidently, my hand gripped the block as I sanded the sharp and dented edges of the cradle. Each layer of paint lifted to show moments from a life. The memories that linger. The horrid pea green paint my mother applied in the mid 70’s, a wish to update and repurpose the cradle for magazine storage. Turquoise, her favourite colour from a 60’s craze to match a floral slip coloured couch, came to the surface. Still I sanded. Where was the red I remembered?

Slowly the layers of paint lifted until patches of Barn Red peeked through, evidence, it was real. I had found the moment so long ago.

This week I restored the old wooden cradle with chalk paint. Pure White by Annie Sloan covered the patches of colour that remain deeply ingrained within the wood. One coat of Santa fe Turquoise by Cece Caldwell, slip covered white. Once slipped in wax, the chippy old cradle’s patina shone restored. My hands reached forth, rocked the cradle.

The cradle’s story lives, once again made real, a grandfather’s simple loving action layered by moments that survive time. Love lives on.

It’s Still A Beautiful World

That there is still decency and kindness in the world.This morning on the downtown eastside I sat in my locked car at a busy intersection and witnessed an action that reminded me there is good in people all around us. It also reminded me about judgements.

A woman struggled to get across the busy crossing before the “DON’T WALK “symbol appeared. Confined to a wheel chair and shoeless, she struggled to push the chair forward with her shuffling feet. As she struggled past, I noticed one foot wrapped in bandages and the other covered in a tattered sock.

Suddenly, out from the shadowy streets ran a man, an oddity with his own set of issues. Long hair a mess, eyes unfocused; he jittered forth. This man noticed the woman in the wheelchair and paused. As he bent to whisper words in her ear, he grabbed the handles at the back of the wheelchair and silently pushed the chair through the cross walk to safety, leaving the somewhat surprised woman to negotiate the edge between road and sidewalk. A random act of kindness and compassion toward another.

In fact, I saw several acts of compassion on the downtown eastside from vendors offering a cup of Joe to marginalized people outside the trending coffee shops to two city police officers that knelt beside a forlorn man seated on a blanket. They gently spoke with him.

A reminder to look beneath the surface. One man’s random wish to help another human navigate through this often confused and chaotic world made a view outside the car window a whole lot brighter.

What will you see today and who will you help?

 

Retrospection

My lately~ has been retrospective; maybe you can relate. This morning I attacked the basement, cleaning and placing loose photos and memories into their corresponding scrapbooks with hope that one day these bits of memory will be meaningful for family. I came across a memoir of sorts, once tossed into a box, given to me by a much missed “aunt.” In it: a family’s story,the lives and loves of a family line.
It was handed to me as the keeper of sorts, in the hope that one day I would share these stories with my own children. I was too young to appreciate the message then. Instead of cleaning I opened the binder and read. What struck me was the constant thread of hope; that even in difficult circumstances, family hung on- together. This family’s story rode through tough times, loss brought them closer and their lives grew richer. They reached out, included one another, always for their children, and valued time with each other. Their circle grew stronger.
More than anything I have sought to hold family close. My wish is that one day, family will be cleaning up their basements and pick up a binder or memory box. I hope they read the stories of family or touch the items, hold to hope and love. May the message come to them at just the right moment; give them reason to pause and remember, there is

nothing that love can’t conquer.